Friday, June 23, 2006

Remedial research with the New Yorker

If, as the latest "Contributors" appears to suggest, Bill Buford is the official New Yorker food writer, they are going to have to invest in some better fact-checkers. In a series of errors reminiscent of his earlier offenses, Buford writes:

Dessert is a modern concept. Chaucer didn't eat one. Neither did Shakespeare. Even as late as the sixteen-sixties, in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, and nearly two centuries after Columbus returned with the first parcel of New World sugar... there won't be a single mention of chocolate cake.

If anything, Columbus brought sugarcane to the new world, since it was unknown there before the conquest. This fact is so elementary, and easily ascertained, that it is hard to imagine Buford doing any research at all, unless it consisted of perusing equally erroneous Haaaagen-Dazs advertisements.

Buford goes on, like all English majors, to confuse the word with the thing, saying that no one ate dessert before 1550, which is ridiculous. The course of fruits and cakes in Chapter 60 of the Satyricon may not fall at the absolute end of Trimalchio's banquet, but it is still recognizably a dessert: Petronius calls it a pompa, presumably in the sense of an ostentatious display, but it also means a (farewell) procession. Certainly more of a dessert than Buford's emetic/emblematic DQ banana split.

So my question to you, emdashes, is why Bill Buford is allowed to write about things he understands so poorly. At least get him a fact-checker.


Blogger The Old Foodie said...

Hear! Bloody Hear! Couldn't agree more. If a "food-writer" cant even be bothered to find out the basics, he/she should be excommunicated, or whatever it is that happens to so-called experts who get it drastically wrong. Should we send him some recipes for "sweet things that would have been called desserts, if the dessert course was not called the banquet back then and in any case sweet things occurred during the meal well there was really no distinction between sweet and savoury if you go back far enough"? Never did like stream of consciousness writing .... sorry.

Mon Jun 26, 07:49:00 AM GMT  
Blogger mmw said...

The worst thing is that the interest of his articles, such as it is, is totally independent of the veneer of "fact" Buford attemps to stick to them. His erronneous speculations along these lines add absolutely nothing to the ex-Granta-editor's-midlife-crisis-lands-
of-"honest-work" storylines.

Why these are thought to be articles about food by the editors is another question.

Tue Jun 27, 05:48:00 AM GMT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. I'm not sure why Buford's error needs to be extrapolated into a dig on all English majors. A wee bit childish, no?

2. People make mistakes. Including writers. Including fact checkers. It's not exactly the end of the world.

Wed Jun 28, 01:14:00 AM GMT  
Blogger Frankie Menace said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wed Jul 12, 04:38:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Frankie Menace said...

Thank you for calling Buford out. The lack of knowledge of food history is appauling within the community of "food critics" and "food writers" as well as insulting.

Wed Jul 12, 04:39:00 PM GMT  

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